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Victorian Women Poets.

The last year of publications on Victorian women's poetry attests that "women's poetry" is no longer a mere niche category but a full, diverse, developing field of study. Books in particular, as these selections show, expand the scholarly endeavor around the "Victorian" to show that transatlantic concerns were always at the heart of the period. Christina Rossetti, Augusta Webster, and Michael Field continue to be central figures, while work that considers the publication and business of poetry remains illuminating.

Yopie Prins's Ladies' Greek:Victorian Translations of Tragedy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2017) considers how a specifically women's culture around reading, writing about, and translating Greek developed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in England and America. Prins argues that whereas classicist men approached ancient Greek with a goal to claim mastery over the language, women's engagement with the language involved a negative capability, an acknowledgment that certain words and ideas are untranslatable, and a confrontation with the power dynamics of translation and working with a dead language. Prins organizes her chapters around five Greek tragedies, a choice that deemphasizes a focus on individual Victorian poets in favor of a culture of Ladies' Greek, a necessary pluralistic endeavor that spanned decades and developed over that time. Chapter 3 on Prometheus Bound begins with a long section addressing EBB's struggles between literal and paraphrastic translation, her dissatisfaction with her 1833 translation, and her second attempt in 1850. Prins treats EBB as forming the foundation for Ladies' Greek, by subsequently considering translations and adaptations of Prometheus by Augusta Webster, Anna Swanwick, Janet Case, and the Americans Edith Hamilton and Eva Palmer Sikelianos. This lineage not only witnesses the transition from women who were self-taught in Greek to those who were able to study it at college but also bears witness to Ladies' Greek as a "collective performance of female classical literacy" (p. 84). As the fame of Edith Hamilton demonstrates perhaps most prominently, by advocating for classical literacy, these women position themselves also as bearers of their nations' morals, whether looking toward political order, as Swanwick did, or to archetypes connecting Greek and American ideals of freedom, as Hamilton did. Of particular interest to scholars of women poets will also be chapter 4, which discusses A. Mary F. Robinson's and H.D.'s translations from Euripides's Hippolytus. Robinson learned Greek in mixed classrooms at the University College in London and developed her ideas in correspondence with J. A. Symonds and with EBB on her mind as a model. For Robinson, translating Euripides creates a space for exploring gender fluidity, desire between women, to champion the lyricism, femininity, and decadence of the Greek poet and in her own work and age. Prins shows how both Robinson and H.D. experimented with meters, creating metrical effects that suited their own language and moment, translating styles of verse as well as words and phrases. Other chapters, "The Education of Electra" and "Dancing Greek Letters" on The Bacchae, consider how women translated Greek tragedy into performance in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, primarily, but not always in university settings. Prins's book makes newly visible an expansive, significant part of women's literary culture.

Tricia Lootens's book The Political Poetess: Victorian Femininity, Race, and the Legacy of Separate Spheres (Princeton, N.J: Princeton Univ. Press, 2017) offers a game-changing look at our understanding of the figure of the Victorian poetess. Arguing that the idea of gendered separate spheres dividing the domestic from the political has always been (and remains) a fantasy, Lootens demonstrates the crucial role that race plays in that fantasy. The dream of separate spheres is itself political and deeply intertwined with public, patriotic poetry of women such as Felicia Hemans, Emma Lazarus, and Julia Ward Howe. Domestic femininity, patriotism, transatlantic slavery--this third term, Lootens argues, is as central to Poetess politics as are the first two. Returning again and again to the refrain "who made the Poetess white? No one; not ever," Lootens ranges from Phyllis Wheatley to Germaine de Stael to Hemans to Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Frances Harper to Alice Walker, to ask, "What might it mean to conceive of the Poetess as always, at least potentially, a figure whose origins trace back to Africa: one who may even write while actually or potentially enslaved?" (p. 11). The book is divided into three sections. The first, "Racializing the Poetess: Haunting 'Separate Spheres,'" examines the legacy of abolitionist and antislavery poetics in Victorian and second-wave poetry and feminism. Section 2, "Suspending Spheres: The Violent Structures of Patriotic Pacifism," reads with extended attention and care poetry (and texts) received as explicitly sentimental, as well as critiques of that sentimentality, ranging from Diana Mulock Craik's Crimean War poetry to the New York Times' volume Portraits: 9/11/01 to show how these spheres are at once literally spatial, portable, and racialized. Section 3, "Transatlantic Occasions: Nineteenth-Century Antislavery Poetics at the Limits," considers at length EBB's "A Curse for a Nation," closing on a meditation on what it means to read and write while white. The final chapter examines how the African American poet and orator Frances E. W. Harper engages in and strains against Poetess performance. This book will remain indispensable to scholars of nineteenth-century women's verse.

James Diedrick's Mathilde Blind: Late-Victorian Culture and the Woman of Letters (Charlottesville: Univ. of Virginia Press, 2016) makes an important contribution not only to the study of this poet but to those who are interested in late Victorian women poets and in fin-de-siecle culture. Meticulously and thoroughly researched, this biography traces the development of Blind's intellectual life and her ties with other aestheticists, particularly with the family of William Michael Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown. Much of the biography relies on Blind's correspondence with Richard Garnett, who primarily served as a librarian at the British Museum. Diedrick carefully traces the development of Blind's career, not only providing an invaluable resource to those who study her work but also demonstrating how a woman navigated the late Victorian literary world.

Janis McLarren Caldwell offers a fresh take on Michael Field's Sight and Song, as well as on ekphrasis and the Victorian culture of death, in "Observing the Dead in Michael Field's Ekphrastic Poetry" (VP 55, no. 22 [2017]: 189-210). Opening with a truly startling diary entry on Bradley and Cooper's visit to the Paris morgue, Caldwell situates this visit with the practice of visiting the morgue as it appears in Browning, Trollope, Dickens, and Collins. Caldwell distinguishes the novelists' disgust from Michael Field's practice of observation, a word that has both aesthetic and religious connotations. Caldwell shows how central the corpse is to Michael Field's ekphrastic volume, showing how often dead bodies appear in the poems, focusing on illuminating close readings of "The Death of Procris" and Crivelli's "A Pieta." Ultimately, Caldwell argues that the corpse is so central to the volume because it makes the authors' task all the more challenging; they must depict the way the painter transitions from living dynamism to the "freeze frame" scene of death, a process that the ekphrastic poet must then reverse. Heather Bozant Witcher brings much-needed attention to Michael Field's verse drama, in "A Royal Lady [Re]born': Balladry, Transport, and Transgression in Michael Field's The Tragic Mary" (VP 55, no. 4 [2017]: 495-516). Witcher focuses on Michael Field's deployment of the ballad form in the songs sung by the title character, arguing that they create a community between Mary and her ladies in waiting and also function as "double poems" that express same-sex desire. In doing so, Michael Field not only relies on traditional forms and generic expectations of the ballad but experiments with those forms.

Victoria Coulson's "Redemption and Representation in 'Goblin Market': Christina Rossetti and the Salvific Signifier" (VP 55 no. 4 [2017]: 423-450) proposes a surprising and original take on Rossetti's most familiar poem, beginning with two previously ignored premises, one from Simon Humphries that there is no market in Goblin Market and the other from Ellen Golub, who reads the poem psychoanalytically, figuring the goblins as maternal, their fruit as the breast, and Laura's inability to find the fruit again as a kind of weaning. Coulson therefore suggests, contra a long list of what she terms "antimercantilist" criticism, that the goblins are not mercantile at all, wanting nothing in exchange for the fruit, that the sisters do want to participate in a normal market, to offer money, rather than to accept the whims of the givers of free gifts. Money returns in the final section of the article as an example of the necessity of the symbolic to both salvation and sexual maturity. Coulson reads Lizzie as both a phallic tower and a "salvific signifier," not a Christ-figure but the bread and wine itself, which bears divinity, and divine fruit. This multifaceted argument, which prides itself on bringing together themes often addressed separately--the market, gender and sexuality, and religion--may not convince all readers on all points, but it is well worth reading for its innovative, detailed, thorough reading of this centerpiece of the Rossetti oeuvre. It nimbly rehearses and then works against the grain of decades of criticism on the poem. Another fresh reading of "Goblin Market" comes in Ronjaunee Chatterjee's "Precarious Lives: Christina Rossetti and the Form of Likeness" (Victorian Literature and Culture 45 [2017]: 745-762.) Chatterjee examines the concept of "likeness" in an extensive reading of Rossetti's series of short stories "Speaking Likenesses" and then applies the concept to "Goblin Market." Chatterjee argues that for Rossetti, likeness is "deeply generative of feminine identity" and allows for a series of horizontal rather than vertical, hierarchical relationships. Sisterhood in "Goblin Market" is one such relationship of likenesses that can "produce imaginative difference through simile" (p. 757). Rossetti resorts to simile so often in this poem, Chatterjee suggests, because the figure can "preserve a form of minimal difference in the figurai act of announcing similarity" (p. 758).

Two articles addressing poetry appear in a special issue of the Victorian Periodicals Review dedicated to the memory of Linda H. Peterson, whose work and scholarly presence were foundational for so many scholars in the field. As a complement to Peterson's work on Alice Meynell's early career choices, Birgit Van Puymbroeck addresses her later career in "Becoming a Land Girl: Reprinting Alice Meynell's 'The Shepherdess' in The Landswoman" (Victorian Periods cals Review 50, no. 2 [2017]: 398-417). This article suggests that "The Shepherdess" remained one of Meynell's signature poems because it reinforced her public image as a domestic angel, and the value of this image is exactly why the editors of the Landswoman sought the poem for their journal, which underscored the importance of traditional femininity even as it supported women's agricultural work as a contribution to the war effort. Moreover, Meynell's public disagreement with her own son's conscientious objection to the war allowed the journal to co-opt her as an important woman within the war effort, despite her more feminist poems of the early twentieth century. In the same issue, Linda Hughes builds on Peterson's work on Mary Howitt, in order to show how adroitly she managed the business of poetry as an editor of Howitt's Journal, with particular focus on the social element of that role. In an analysis of some of the poetry contributions, she demonstrates how the journal was angled toward social justice and reform. And in her readings of Howitt's correspondence with the poet and contributor William Cox Bennet, we see Howitt balancing a variety of interests, including a desire to encourage a poet while also needing to reject his work due to page counts or even flaws in the work. Hughes emphasizes the way that Howitt challenged gender roles by offsetting a nurturing tone with a firm assertion of her authority.

This year also saw a special issue of Victorian Poetry devoted to Augusta Webster. This issue, edited by Patricia Rigg, brings new approaches to what are now perennial favorites, especially the dramatic monologues in Portraits but also to underexamined work, such as Webster's verse dramas. Herbert Tucker's contribution "Fretted Lines: Di-versification in Augusta Webster's Dramatic Monologues" (VP 55, no. 1 [2017]: 105-124) makes a compelling case for appreciating Webster's prosodic prowess. Shedding new light on poems that are by now at the top of the Webster canon, such as "The Happiest Girl in the World," "A Castaway," and "Sister Annunciata," Tucker argues that Webster plays rhythm against meter in order to illuminate the internal conflicts and struggles of her speakers. Prosodic tours de force across her dramatic work, he argues, allow the poems to "return their own image with a difference" (p. 118) to both speaker and reader. In "Freaks of Femininity: Webster's Gallery of Female Grotesques in Portraits" (VP 55, no. 1 [2017]: 85-103), Helen Luu argues that the opening monologues of Webster's collection function as a kind of freak show, putting the characters on display as radically other. According to Luu, previous critics read Webster's dramatic monlogues as rescuing the agency and subjectivity of transgressive women. In opposition, Luu argues that it is their very embodiment of Victorian feminine ideals that Webster wants to present as freakish, in order to "expose the monstrous" within that ideal. In '"We Should Be That lago': Counterfactual Sympathy and the Lyric 'We' in Augusta Webster's Portraits and A Housewife's Opinions" (VP 55, no. 1 [2017]: 63-83), Caolan Madden argues that Webster dispenses with the kind of counterfactual thinking that leads us to imagine what "would have been" and instead prompts readers into a "counterfactual sympathy" that encourages them to imagine themselves as the characters portrayed. Madden focuses on both poems and essays to show how Webster uses similar strategies in both forms, to broaden "readers' social imaginations," insisting on a collective of the readership, the "we" instead of an "I" (p. 65). In this way, social reform and aesthetics are aligned.

In "A 'Strange Second Flowering' and the 'Second Heart': Reimagined Modes of Aestheticism and Romanticism in Augusta Webster's Yu-Pe-Ya's Lute" (VP 55, no. 1 [2017]: 5-18), Lee O'Brien observes that Webster's narrative poem, based on a Chinese tale in French translation, captures the intense male homoeroticism of Victorian aestheticism, from the perspective of a woman poet, as if on foreign territory. At the same time, she presents it as something of a pastiche, an instance of Victorian postmodernism, nonetheless sincere in the way it questions the conflicts between family bonds and art, both idealizing and destroying the male bonds that are often presented as central to aestheticism. Two articles address Webster's much-neglected verse dramas. Annemarie Steffes's '"A Sensation of the Action': The Inscription of Performance in the Verse Dramas of Augusta Webster" (VP 55, no. 1 [2017]: 39-61) argues that Webster adopted this form in order to emphasize the very performative nature of poetry itself. For Steffes, Webster articulates a vision for the genre in which readers can imagine fully formed stage productions, as attentive as any director or actor to the way the scenes might play out. This approach foregrounds the performative language she uses in the verse dramas as well as their emphasis on embodiment. In "The Limits of Liberty: Gender, Power, and Freedom in Augusta Webster's In a Day" (VP 55, no. 1 [2017]: 19-38), T. D. Olverson considers Webster's verse drama about a slave set to be freed and to marry her master in the climate of political persecution during the Roman occupation of Greece, reading the drama as addressing nineteenth-century social injustices of gender, class, and even race. Though the emphasis is subtle, in examining In a Day's focus on slavery, Olverson finds the transatlanticism that is emerging as such a powerful force in the study of Victorian women's verse.
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Title Annotation:Guide to the Year's Work
Author:Harrington, Emily
Publication:Victorian Poetry
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 22, 2018
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Next Article:Simian, Amphibian, and Able: Reevaluating Browning's Caliban.

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